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When first-year Deaconess Studies student Rachel McCloskey moved to Concordia Seminary’s campus in the fall of 2021, she felt like she was coming home. Indeed she was.

“Years ago, I was one of the barefoot Woods children, running around campus,” she said.

At the age of 6, she moved to campus with her parents, brother and twin sister. Her father was pursuing a Master of Divinity to become a pastor. She has fond memories of living on the western end of campus in the Seminary’s family apartments, which are affectionately known as the “Woods.”

Her path from a young girl to a seminarian cemented her Lutheran identity, and on that foundation, spurred her desire to serve the church. But her path to vocational ministry wasn’t always clear.

A year in Costa Rica

Unsure what the next move would be after high school, McCloskey attended community college for a year. Then she found out about an opportunity to serve on a short-term mission with Global Adventure Pursuit (GAP) in San José, Costa Rica. She worked and saved money to be able to participate.

McCloskey said her year in Costa Rica was one of the best years of her life, but also one of the most challenging. She faced theological ideas that she had never come across before as she served alongside Christians from other denominations.

The theological dissonance propelled her into studying the Bible and theology, and pointed her solidly back to the confessional Lutheran theology she had known her entire life.

“It all comes back to Baptism,” she said. “My non-Lutheran friends didn’t think Baptism meant anything other than something they did for Jesus. It turned into a works-righteousness thing for them. They had no assurance that God loved them, that Baptism was God’s work for them. Thanks be to God, I had a lot of people, and a lot of books too, that helped me, especially Luther’s Large Catechism.”

But after the year of ministry in Costa Rica, McCloskey still wasn’t ready to return to college.

On to Boston

She decided to apply and was accepted to serve a 10-month program with Lutheran Young Adult Corps in Boston. As part of the experience, she gathered clothing and personal care items for people without homes. She also worked at New England Seafarers Mission, an outreach ministry of a local church that provides spiritual and physical assistance to international seafarers.

She may not have been in college at this point, but McCloskey was in the school of real-life ministry.

These experiences gave her clarity: She wanted a career in church work. She enrolled in the pre-deaconess program at Concordia University, Saint Paul, Minn. (CSP), where she majored in theology and minored in Spanish.

Then came the coronavirus pandemic and all its uncertainty. In March 2020, CSP students were sent home to continue their studies virtually, as was the case for many students nationwide. She was excited to go back to CSP in person in August 2020 and to work in residence life and attend in-person classes.

“It was the first time I was going to see my friends in forever,” she said. But after being back at CSP for a few days, she contracted the virus and later struggled with its after-effects. She suffered from extreme fatigue and other symptoms for 10 months.

She finally was able to return to school in March 2021, a couple of months before graduation. She was overjoyed as she walked across the stage and received her diploma in person.

Seminary in St. Louis

After receiving her bachelor’s degree, McCloskey enrolled in the Seminary’s Deaconess Studies Program, a three-year residential program designed for women who seek to further their knowledge of theology and its applications to serve congregations and institutions of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod as a deaconess. “I love being a part of the Seminary community,” she said. “I’m constantly encouraged by other Christians who don’t shy away from telling the truth and who are always ready to minister to one another with God’s Word,” she said.

She has especially appreciated an introductory systematic theology course taught by Dr. Joel Okamoto, the Seminary’s Waldemar and Mary Griesbach Professor of Systematic Theology, and a spiritual care course with Dr. Gillian Bond, the director of the Deaconess Studies Program.

“I’ve learned how important the theology of the cross is to spiritual care,” she said. “Suffering people need a compassionate, listening ear and to know the comfort found only in Christ.”

After she graduates, McCloskey said she is interested in serving overseas. “But I’m open to anything,” she said. “I’ve tried to tell God my plans before, and that’s always ended with good laughter. Then He shows me His plans.”

Sarah Maney is a communications specialist at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis.